The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D

Friendship. Imagination. Dreams. They’re the things any good childhood, and good adulthood for that matter, is made of. Fearless filmmaker Robert Rodriguez indulges that fact by letting imagination run wild in his kid’s movie The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D. The result is a fantastic journey that is built to capture and inspire young minds without boring them to death. Max is your everyday, ordinary kid, struggling with the same kinds of things many kids do. Parent troubles, school bullies and strict teachers daily drive Max to his world of dreams, a place where he can create whatever he wants and things can be as wild and crazy as he can imagine. Two of his best friends in this dream world, known as Planet Drool, are Shark Boy and Lava Girl. When the people in the real world, namely Max’s mother and teacher, begin to tell him he should dream less and grow up, Shark Boy and Lava Girl come to get Max’s help. His dream world is beginning to collapse.

Rodriguez has given imagination free reign with Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Moment to moment the adventure is one random event after the next, all tied together loosely by the bands of a simple plot aimed at a young audience’s short attention span. There’s nothing too wild or too incredible to appear in the story and almost everything exists as a play on words. For example, the adventure leads the kids through such places as Mount Never Rest, the Stream of Consciousness and the Train of Thought.

Nearly the entire movie was filmed on a green screen, relying on the same technology and techniques used to bring Sin City to life. Instead of a gritty reality, Rodriguez paints a surrealistic world full of hyper-realistic shapes, colors and ideas. It’s a visual feast, clearly meant to give the impression of a dream state, not the real world. Planet Drool is populated by all manner of crazy creatures and characters, also digitally created, including the villainous Mr. Electric, who sports a delightfully bloated version of George Lopez’ head.

As the story progresses the situations have higher stakes, calling on the characters to face greater dangers and rely more on each other’s friendships. The action never becomes too intense and the dialogue is the kind of stuff that older kids and adults would roll their eyes at. Still, every moment is perfect for younger watchers who will no doubt be rooting for the good guys and yelling at the bad guys before the show is over.

If the movie has one fault, it lies in the third dimension. The latest technology in 3-D involves dual digital projectors and non-colored polarized glasses, but it exists in only the higher tech theaters, particularly IMAX and the like. Most theaters require the old style of red and cyan lenses to create depth. They achieve the 3-D effect well enough but in this case they blot out the film’s rich color. I’m certain Rodriguez would have wanted his movie shown in the best possible manner, but present day theaters just aren’t cool enough for his dream to be realized. Harsh reality strikes again.

Parents and older siblings will have a hard time keeping their attention focused on Shark Boy and Lava Girl but the little ones will have an even harder time tearing themselves away from the screen. There’s a wonderful set of inspirations for little imaginations and maybe a few for the older ones too, if you’re willing to remember what it was like to be young and open your mind up to a little dreaming. Making Shark Boy and Lava Girl was definitely a family affair for Rodriguez who called upon his children and extended family to contribute. In honor of that, the movie is credited as A Rodriguez Family Film, not just his. He spends much of the extra features describing the collaboration and the rest talking about how much he enjoyed making the movie. You have to admire a guy who can open himself up to directing a film like Sin City without dismissing ideas like 3-D kids movies. He may not be Spielberg, but I don’t think Spielberg has ever had this much fun.

The biggest bonus is obviously the fact that they’ve brought the 3-D home, complete with four sets of 3-D glasses. It’s not nearly as impressive on the home screen as the big screen, but the effect is still novel enough to delight the kiddies. The disc has a couple of quick and easy steps to get your screen optimized, but the red/cyan effect just doesn’t do the movie justice. A strictly 2D version is also included and is by far the better way to watch the movie. All that color is just too great to waste with tinted plastic in front of your eyes.

Rodriguez’ son Racer, age 6 at the time the movie was written, was the inspiration for much of the story and most of the characters in the film. A brief but touching featurette shows off Robert, Racer and other members of the family coming up with ideas and storylines. Racer sits on the floor with markers and paper while Dad videotapes and asks questions. Moments from these brainstorming sessions appear directly in the film revealing the faith that Rodriguez has in his children’s imaginations. At the end he points out that he works creatively with his kids because he believes it is the key to helping their imaginations grow. It’s a sort of “The More You Know…” moment, but it highlights the magic that made the movie such a success.

The final bonus is a commentary from Rodriguez, where he spends most of the time talking about his family’s involvement and the tricks behind working so heavily with green screen. At one point Racer comes into the room and joins him for the discussion, reminiscing with his dad over certain scenes. It’s worth a listen if you’re interested in hearing a description of one of the most clever and successful collaborations I’ve ever heard of.

Kids don’t generally like the same kinds of bonus features as adults, and while the movie could have easily lent itself to the sort of DVD games that Disney thrives on, the disc focuses more on the movie and how it was made. It’s a minimalist package, but one that still manages to pack a wallop. Besides, everyone looks cool in those 3-D glasses. What more could you ask for?